Year-In-Review: Top 20 films of 2014

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

As I look back on my year-end list, there are always the regretful few movies I've missed, but these are the movies I loved in 2014 - and they get pretty weird.

1. "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"

Alejandro González Iñárritu's exploration of a washed-up actor was funny and heartbreaking and oh-so-meta. Michael Keaton led the year's best cast, and the single "continuous" shot became a key ingredient, not a gimmick.

2. "Boyhood"

You've never seen a movie quite like "Boyhood," and it's unlikely you ever will again. Richard Linklater's chronicle of a boy becoming a man was 12 years in the making. It feels like life.

3. "Inherent Vice"

It takes a while to start to feel groovy about Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's stoner detective novel. Once you catch on that it's more about vibe than trying too hard to navigate the labyrinthine plot, it all starts/stops making sense. Dig?

4. "Nightcrawler"

This tight and stylish thriller was anchored by Jake Gyllenhaal's transformative performance as the creepy Lou Bloom. Dan Gilroy also worked in some pretty pointed commentary about the TV news climate in one of the year's best directorial debuts.

5. "Under the Skin"

Jonathan Glazer's hypnotic and impressionistic take on a mysterious woman (a superbly detached Scarlett Johansson) who seduces men in Scotland was one of the year's most enveloping experiences (or frustrating if you want traditional plot).

6. "Whiplash"

We've seen the "talented pupil/tyrannical teacher" dynamic before, but writer-director Damien Chazelle's took a young percussionist (an underrated Miles Teller) and put him in a room with a wild animal (J.K. Simmons in the year's most indelible supporting turn).

7. "Wetlands"

Here's when I remind you this list is not for everyone. This bizarre, unhinged and gleefully perverse German import isn't always easy to watch - especially if bodily fluids make you cringe.

8. "Blue Ruin"

A bloody revenge tale with a less-than-likely protagonist was a tight and stylish indie thriller that delivered on a small budget.

9. "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Wes Anderson's most grand picture yet came out all the way in March, but it should be remembered when the Oscar nominations come out, especially for Ralph Fiennes in the comedic performance of the year.

10. "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"

Not another Iranian vampire Western! Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour gorgeous black-and-white flick was a joy of genre-hopping and a refreshingly female-centered take on vampire lore.

11. "Snowpiercer"

Korean director Joon-ho Bong makes a wild English-language debut with an action-filled journey on a futuristic train with a sharp breakdown of the modern class system.

12. "Obvious Child"

Abortion-themed comedies aren't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate managed to make one of the most honest, heartfelt comedies of the year.

13. "The Babadook"

A single mom, her young son and a creepy-ass storybook added up to one of the most terrifying movies in years in the hands of director Jennifer Kent. The fact that fans of recent jump-scare horror don't like it makes me like it more.

14. "Frank"

This bizarrely delightful comedy about an eccentric indie band is pretty amazing, as is the performance that Michael Fassbender delivers while wearing a giant fake head.

15. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

I didn't expect it to improve on the excellent first rebooted "Apes" movie, but this was another reminder that big-budget summer movies can be smart too.

16. "Jodorowsky's Dune"

The sheer ambition of cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky's failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert's sweeping sci-fi book to the screen makes this documentary the most amazing story of a movie no one saw.

17. "The Raid 2"

It's basically a collection of action movie set pieces that play out like the levels of a real-life video game, and it's spectacular at that. This is how you do over-the-top action.

18. "20,000 Days on Earth"

A documentary is only as interesting as its subject, and this one had Nick Cave. Its unique take on storytelling kicks up a notch.

19. "Coherence"

A dinner party and a parallel universe make for an ideal setting for a twisty sci-fi movie on a micro budget.

20. "Edge of Tomorrow"

Saddled by one the year's worst titles ("Live Die Repeat" has been tacked on for home release), this time-hopping Tom Cruise vehicle was one of the best movies of the summer, if not a box office winner.